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He was hungry because he hadn't eaten anything all day (Past Perfect)

Her hand was hurting because she had been playing the piano all day (Past Perfect Continuous)

If both sentences mention "all day" showing continuity and the duration of an activity in the past, why is the first sentence in the Past Perfect?

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  • It's because, when both tenses were suitable, the author preferred to use the past perfect. There isn't a sharp border between them. They merge into each other. Often, one fits the context better than the other. Mar 26, 2021 at 10:40
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    We wouldn't say "he hadn't been eating all day" because no-one would expect him to have spent the day continuously eating. Mar 26, 2021 at 12:11

1 Answer 1

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The tense has more to do with the verb form than the phrase "all day".

One has a contraction, so writing it out

He was hungry because he had not eaten anything all day.

The other

Her hand was hurting because she had been playing the piano all day.

In the first they conjugated verb is "had ... eaten" while in the other the conjugated verb is "had been playing"

Use of the word "been" in the verb phrase indicates an action that both started in the past and continued, and when it is missing, the action likely happened in the past, but there is no indication of continuation.

Combined with the word "not" it seems that if an event never happened in the past, that it would "continuously not happen in the past" but English doesn't make this distinction.

In summary, an item that never happened in the past isn't the same thing as it continuously not happening according to the rules of English, even if the rules of Logic say they are the same thing.

Now if you wrote

He was hungry because he had not been eating all day.

Then it would be "Past Perfect Continuous)

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  • "had not been eating all day" can mean that he ate at some point during the day, but not "all day". It is not the same thing.
    – Esther
    May 10, 2022 at 17:05

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